Saturday, January 25, 2014

Week Four – Trains, Planes and Coaches!

Week four of my blog is all about transport! 

Yes it doesn’t take long into my 52-week writing journey for me to address the subject of the different methods that I use to move about. As an integral part of my life and many of you out there, it is only right we dedicate the next few paragraphs to this subject.

And this week my journey began with facing what many experience every Monday morning in London and I am sure in other cities around the globe – The rush hour in Underground system!

There is a very funny YouTube video which I included above, that shows people in Japan who have been employed specially to push commuters into the trains during rush hour, and if you haven’t see it take a look, believe me, it is an art! And for those of you who commute in the London underground system (or any similar train organisation around the world) will agree with me that it’s about time we employed “Train Pusher” in the Tube!

I arrived at Victoria Station in Central London after two and quarter hours in a coach to face hundreds of people standing still outside the station. The doors were shut and they were feeding us through a tinny crack in the metal railing gates. It took me about half an hour to get into the station to then face further queuing to get onto the platform and wait for 5 trains before I was able to get on and be on my way. Remember week one? Stay in control? It is hard to do this when you are pushed and shoved and squeezed just to get on a train! And by the way the scariest moment of this adventure is when you eventually get to the front of the platform and you are now facing the empty space between you and the wall on the other side and you look down at your toes, which are an inch away from the edge. You suddenly feel like you are in one of those arcade machines that you drop a coin and it pushes the next coin and then it pushes the next coin etc.  You look behind and become aware of the sea of people and the fear factor kicks in knowing that if someone pushes the person behind you, you will fall onto the rails like that coin! If you’ve never experience this let me give you some advice, don’t move and when the train comes shut your eyes! Especially if you are at the beginning of the platform; it is a frightening experience to see the train, about 3 inches away from your nose, pass by at high speed! You feel it’s never going to end and you get quite dizzy! Anyhow, I digress. The point here is that I believe it takes so long to get on a train and as a result creates a mess of people who need to be filtered into the station because we don’t have “train pushers”. It is frustrating how commuters will not move to the centre of the train and, as the platform master announces when the train arrives, “use all available space”! I’m taking this idea to London Underground Transport Headquarters, so watch out for the add in the job section of the news paper that says “good with your hands? You like to push people around? Good at getting things into small spaces? Join the London Underground Train Pushers today!”

So after a somehow frustrating start of my week going into the office, I was looking forward to Tuesday to catch my flight to Yerevan via Vienna with Austrian Airlines.
My third method of transportation this week was to be the trusted metal bird. For those who have heard my story about British Airways would know that I don’t flight the “World’s Favourite Airline” since two years ago after they treated me like dirt and showed very little customer care. I would like to add to this list Austrian Airways!
As a frequent flyer I have some advantages earned through the endurance of being on a plane every week. One of those benefits is that I get to choose my seat, free of charge, when I check in on line. And in the majority of my trips I chose the aisle seat on the exit row, it gives me that little extra leg room which comes in handy specially when your flight leaves at 10 pm and arrives at your destination at 5 am the next day.
I had an unfortunate bad connection in Vienna and I had to wait 10 hours in the lounge for my flight to Yerevan. On the plane from London to Vienna I had my usual aisle seat that I had chosen when I checked in. When I came to board I was stopped at the gate and informed that my seat had been moved. This some times happens due to a change on aircraft but in this occasion I was told I was moved because I had not paid the 40 Euro charge for seating at an exit row. Yes you are reading this right, it is not Ryan Air, and it is Austrian Airways! Apparently they have introduced a new policy where they charge you if you are on an exit row! I, of course, protested at once and informed the lady at the gate I wanted the exit row. “if you want the exit row you have to pay 40 Euros” she replied. I argued that this was wrong as I had been allowed to check in on this seat and I wanted the exit row. “You will have to pay” is all she kept repeating while my fellow passengers where getting irritated as I blocked the gate. Conscious of this I let it go as I did not want to cause a scene, “remember week one Sergio, Stay in Control” I kept on saying to myself. As we boarded the plane and everyone was seated I looked around to see the exit row and guess what? It was empty! I called the person in charge of the flight and I expressed my anger and disappointment at how they were treating a frequent flyer and I wanted to sit there. And here comes the extraordinary part, when I asked if I could move she said, “you will have to pay 40 Euros if you want to sit there” I kid you not! The short slightness of the airline and their staff has cost them more than the 40 Euros they did not make with me this week, as if this is the attitude towards loyal customers, I no longer wish to be loyal to them and will look for alternative airlines to travel in the future. My only worry is that the airline industry is so bad at customer service and loyalty, because let’s face it they don’t give a dam about us, I will run out of companies to travel with!

Anyhow, I do have to say that as I write this blog on the Austrian flight back from Yerevan, not on the exit row!, my week ends up on a high note and this is thanks to an immigration officer in Vienna. As I handed over my passport for inspection to board the Vienna – London leg of the journey, she takes her time and looks at my picture several times. She then starts a series of questions, which are un-usual, and keeps me there for about 3 minutes. At the end she looks at me and says, “I’m sorry to have kept you sir but you have lost a bit of weight and you look quite different to your picture in the passport” and I replied with a cheeky smile “that’s ok, you probably thought that was my fat brother’s passport” and she laugh. As I parted she said “well done, you look much better”. It is always nice when you get complements from an immigration office that usually hardly smiles.

I guess the learning for me this week has been that no matter how much you hate public transportation; it is an integral part of our lives and some of us use it more than others, you just have to remember that in the end is not the journey but the destination and as long as I get safely to where I’m heading, I’m ok with being pushed into a trained or taken my favourite seat on the plane away from me. All I asked is to get there safely to see my family and share with you all my adventures!

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